Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Anthony 'Bus' Etri - Legendary Big Band Swing Jazz Guitarist

Bus Etri (1917 - 1941) 
The name and recordings of jazz guitarist Bus Etri may only be known by a handful of jazz guitar nerds today. However, Bus Etri's contribution to big band swing jazz in the 1930s and early 1940s ought to be better known among fans of swing jazz guitar. Unfortunately, only few details about Bus Etri's biography and career are available, but here are the few facts I could find. Anthony 'Bus' Etri was born in Manhattan, NYC, June 22, 1917 and died in a car crash in Culver City, Ca., Aug. 21, 1941. No info available about his life and musical background until his name and guitarplaying are featured with recordings by the Hudson - DeLange Orchestra from 1937 - 38. When this co-lead orchestra dissolved in 1938, Bus Etri continued for some time as a member of Will Hudson's orchestra which recorded a couple of sessions for Brunswick under the name of Will Hudson and his Seven Swingsters featuring Etri on guitar. However, at some point in 1938 Bus Etri switched to Charlie Barnet's orchestra and was a stable member of this organisation for the remain of his shortlived career. Both as a member of the Hudson-DeLange Orchestra and Charlie Barnet's big band Bus Etri contributed with his remarkable and excellent jazz guitar playing on stage and records, below I'll insert some recorded examples that have been uploaded at You Tube.
The Hudson - DeLange Orchestra
March 10 and 11, 1937 the Hudson-DeLange Orchestra recorded nine titles for the Master/Brunswick label in New York, four have guitar soli by Bus Etri - they are: Stardust, College Widow, Bugle Call Rag and Wake Up And Live. Personnel of the orchestra include Charles Mitchell, Howard Schaumberger, Jimmy Blake (tp), Edward Kolyer (tb), George Bohn, Gus Bivona (cl, as), Ted Duane (cl, ts), Pete Brendel (as, bar), Mark Hyams (p), Bus Etri (g), Doc Goldberg (b), Nat Pollard (dm), Ruth Gaylor (vo), Will Hudson (arr, dir), Eddie de Lange (vo, arr, dir). Below is inserted the audio videos of Stardust and Bugle Call Rag 

From the same session, Bus Etri's guitar solo playing is also featured in Bugle Call Rag 

The remarkable hot chord style contributions and short single string statements by Bus Etri in the two above examples are a hallmark of his guitar playing style at this point of his career, also noticed in the recording of On The Alamo by the Hudson-DeLange orchestra from April 8, 1938

Charlie Barnet and his orchestra (c.1941)
As mentioned above, in 1938 (- probably between August and November) Bus Etri switched to the big band orchestra of Charlie Barnet and was a mainstay with this organisation until his untimely death in August 1941. Charlie Barnet and his orchestra made a considerable number of recordings for Bluebird and further was presented in transcription sessions and various live performances during the late 1930s and early 1940s featuring Bus Etri on guitar. However, much of this material outside the studio recordings by the band is still undiscovered and hard to find, thus the number of live recordings featuring Bus Etri guitar soli contributions is unknown so far.
Tappin' At The Tappa_Bluebird B-10584-B
Among the studio recordings by Charlie Barnet's orchestra for Bluebird, the first registered solo by Etri is featured in a session recorded in NYC, Jan. 3rd, 1940 on Tappin' At The Tappa - a tune by Barnet and heavily inspired by the Ellington sound. Personnel include Robert Burnet, Billy May, John Owens, Lyman Vunk (tp), Spud Murphy, Don Ruppersberg, Bill Robertson (tb), Noni Bernardi, James Lamare, Gene Kinsey (as), Charlie Barnet (as, ts, ldr), Kurt Bloom (ts), Bill Miller (p), Bus Etri (g), Phil Stevens (b), Cliff Leeman (dm).

Bus Etri's solo contribution at this recording of Tappin' At The Tappa is still played on the acoustic archtop guitar and his style of playing has not changed fundamentally compared to the mix of chords and short single string statements known from the contributions with the Hudson - DeLange Orchestra. However, two months later Bus Etri has changed to amplified/electric guitar and now a new dimension in his playing style is revealed in a session with Charlie Barnet for Bluebird on March 21, 1940. Two titles from this session have soli by Etri, they are featured in A Lover's Lullaby and Wanderin' Blues
Wanderin' Blues_Bluebird B-10721-B
The audio of Wanderin' Blues has also been uploaded at You Tube and is inserted below

Jazz critic Jan Evensmo writes in his solography on Bus Etri (- free available as a downloadable pdf document, here) about this recording of Wanderin' Blues, quote: “Wanderin’ Blues”! Mostly played single string in the bottom register, it is a 100% original conception of the blues. Ranging from down-to-earth blue phrases to an almost Ravellian atmosphere in bars 9-10, purposefully played out of beat, the solo gives altogether the impression of a true innovator on the instrument." Bus Etri's switching to the amplified/electric guitar implied a noticeable change in his playing style, now more focused on single string contribution. This may be the reason why some critics have characterized Bus Etri as 'the white Charlie Christian', a comparison also evident in the recording of Flying Home by the Charlie Barnet orchestra from May 8, 1940, although Etri's short solo in this take of the famous swing tune does not copy Charlie Christian, well, you may judge for yourself

Two more examples of Bus Etri's contributions on amplified/electric guitar with Charlie Barnet are inserted below to further characterize his playing style. Here is first a recording for Bluebird on Jan. 7, 1941 of Charlie Barnet's  Blue Juice 

Jan Evensmo writes in his Bus Etri solography about Blue Juice, quote: "It seems that BE had a particular knack for the blues, and he plays very well here, mixing a driving single string with strange chords, creating rather unique results, not to be mistaken for any other contemporary guitar player, nor later ones. Note how he uses several of Charlie Christian’s tricks, adapted to his own needs." The same applies to the transcription recording of Uptown Blues from about the same time, inserted below from You Tube as the last example here of the jazz guitar playing style by the legendary Bus Etri 

The above inserted photo of Bus Etri is copied from the updated solography by Jan Evensmo, which also features another illustration in color of the guitarist. The solography by Jan Evensmo is a must for serious researchers of Bus Etri's recorded legacy and I strongly recommend you to download the pdf , if you like to  have a detailed outline of registered soli contributions by this excellent guitarist.

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